The Mystery Dungeon series has been around for a long time, now; they’re roguelike video games that have been pumped out since the early 90s. While they’ve spawned spin-offs from big franchises like Pokemon, they’ve also created their own characters like Shiren the Wanderer. The most recent entry in this storied series, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, makes its way to the Vita (exclusively!) and offers up a solid, yet imperfect roguelike experience with lots to offer and a hook that, even at its most frustrating, won’t let go of you. Even when I wanted to throw my Vita in frustration, I had to go back and beat the dungeon that bested me. Beneath the cute pixel art lies a brutal roguelike game that starving Vita fans should welcome with open arms.
In Shiren the Wanderer, you move through different floors of dungeons battling monsters, leveling up your character and collecting better loot. On each floor, you’ll move around in turn based fashion at the same time as your enemies. Each action you take, whether it be moving around the dungeon, attacking or even moving your inventory counts as a turn. Originally, I found this gameplay welcoming and easy, until I progressed further into dungeons with bigger, deadlier beasts. Doing anything – even eating an herb to quickly heal could allow monsters the time to flank from both sides.
Don’t let Shiren the Wanderer’s vibrant art fool you – this game is tough. Mechanically, it’s pretty straight forward, but bigger, badder beasts make every action meaningful and potentially fatal if you aren’t paying enough attention. It’s both the most engaging and most frustrating aspect of Shiren the Wanderer. At times, I felt like my carelessness and cockiness got the best of me and allowed the monsters to kill me quickly, though at other points I felt that having to start over at level 1 after a death made harder dungeons near-impossible unless I did some serious level grinding before every run.
I enjoy the combat in Shiren the Wanderer, but after a long play session, dungeons can become a tad monotonous. The combat has a fun hook, but, for the most part, it doesn’t deviate far from what you learn to do early in the story. Enemies and their movements may change, but hours of grinding the same combat over and over erode away the shine that Shiren once had. I found that when I played a couple of dungeons and put my Vita down to come back later helped freshen the experience every time and helped peak my interest.
Inventory management is a huge part of Shiren the Wanderer. You’ll collect more items than you can imagine while cutting your way through dungeons. Shiren only has a finite amount of space in his bad to hold things, so you’ll constantly need to adjust your inventory to make room for more useful items. You can find pots that can store items inside to clear up more room while not sacrificing items you may want later. I see the potential for the inventory system being engaging seeing as how every move counts as a move in real time and you give up some safety to rearrange, but the menu is such a pain to navigate around that I avoided it as much as possible. Moving through your inventory is slow and it stalls the flow of the dungeons. Eventually, I just began throwing unwanted items in the dungeon so I didn’t have to waste any more time.
The story in Shiren the Wanderer is only a small thread to get you from dungeon to dungeon, though it’s perfectly short and rarely gets in the way of the action. Surprising enough, characters are memorable even with the short screen time. My favorite character was Shiren’s talking ferret Koppa, who usually adds some humor and is the designated talker for the silent Shiren. When there is dialogue, it isn’t novel-length nonsense, rather, it’s short glimpses into a character and then it’s back to the action. Shiren the Wanderer understands that it works best keeping a fast pace without numerous distractions. The only story you really need to know is that there’s a god named Reeva who’s legend states that if you climb to the top of the gigantic tower, you can challenge her and possibly change your fate.
Lush, gorgeous pixel art floods the Vita’s screen thanks to some amazing level and character artwork throughout the entire game. Some dungeons are dark, gloomy setpieces without much detail, but later on you’ll see impressive vistas that make the world feel bigger than it really is.
Quick, fun and satisfying, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a welcome addition to the Vita’s damn near extinct catalog of original games. Lots of content to digest and the ability to play in bite size pieces makes the Vita a great fit for a roguelike game like Shiren the Wanderer. Even with some annoying inventory management and some Vita-throwing worthy moments of frustration, Shiren is addicting enough to warrant dusting off Sony’s forgotten handheld.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation Vita game Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate by Spike Chunsoft. Review copy provided by Aksys Games.
- Turn-based combat
- Great roguelike challenge (mostly)
- Pixel art
- Inventory management
- Dungeon crawling can get stale